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Perhaps no recent debate within higher education has generated so little interest outside of higher education than that of the learning engineer. See Learning Engineers Inch Toward the Spotlight

Nobody outside academia cares what a bunch of learning nerds call ourselves.

Only a tiny sliver of humanity could come up with a credible explanation of what learning designers, instructional designers, learning engineers, or directors of digital learning initiatives do all day long.

Don’t believe me? If you are a fellow learning nerd (not a traditional professor), try asking anyone in your family what your job is. Ask your spouse, your kids, or your parents what you do all day long at work. It would be amusing to hear their response.

This is not to minimize this whole question of how we should feel about the rise of the learning engineer. All of us get very wrapped up into matters of professional identity.

Personally, I don’t care what you call me. If it takes having the job title of a learning engineer to gain some reasonable level of autonomy and job security and some modicum of academic freedom, then a learning engineering I am. Whatever.

The important story about the whole learning engineer title question (again, nobody but us cares) is what all these people are actually doing. And what they are doing is pretty cool.

We constantly worry about the future of higher education. We worry about the cost disease and adjunctification. We worry about challenging demographics and the erosion of public support.

These are all excellent worries to have. I worry about all these things as well.

But we should also recognize that some amazing things are going on in higher education. And many of these things have to do with learning.

We wouldn’t be having this whole learning engineer debate if a critical mass of colleges and universities weren’t making significant changes in how students are learning.

There is a fantastic amount of innovation occurring with blended, low-residency and online education on our campuses. Every school that I know is engaged in some initiative, experiment, or program to improve student learning.

How many introductory courses at your school have been redesigned?

How many fixed-seat tiered classrooms have been rebuilt as active learning classrooms?

How many online, low-residency or blended courses at your school have been designed in collaboration with a learning professional? (Whatever they are called).

Is your school involved in efforts to bring learning analytics to professors and students?

To what degree are you and your academic colleagues talking about learning science?

How many of you are seeing practices such as backward course design, learning objectives, and formative assessment proliferate around your campus?

The state of teaching and learning in higher education today is so much better than it was when I went to college. Maybe the whole idea of active learning existing in the late 1980s and the early 1990s when I was a student, but it was certainly not widely applied.

Our learning engineer debate is a signal. A result of a much bigger set of changes.

Higher education is in the middle of a renaissance in teaching and learning, and we don’t even know it.

What does your family think that you do for a living?

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